Although the Harford County Bar Association is only 75 years old, the bar of Harford County has had a long and distinguished history that extends back two and a quarter centuries.
Harford County itself was formed by the Maryland legislature in 1773 as a result of the dissatisfaction of the people in the area that was to become Harford County with the removal of the County Seat to Baltimore. In colonial times counties were governed by county courts which exercised a combination of judicial, legislative and executive power. When the first session of the new Harford County Court was held at Harford Town on March 22, 1774, its first act after the swearing in of the newly appointed justices and other officials was to admit attorneys to practice before it.
From its beginning, the bar has provided Harford County with leadership in the areas of government and politics as well as providing public services in other fields. Unfortunately, because of the somewhat ephemeral nature of the work of lawyers and courts, many of the attorneys who had done so much for this community have been forgotten to history. To acknowledge the accomplishments of all of the attorneys who have contributed to Harford County’s well-being over the past two centuries would be impossible in a short space. Some, however, have rendered such distinguished service that they deserve special recognition.
One of the members of the first bar in 1774 was Benjamin Rumsey. Judge Rumsey was an active leader in the Revolutionary movement and served with distinction in the Continental Congress during the darkest days of the war. Following the creation of the new state government, he was named the first Chief Judge of the newly created Court of Appeals and served in that position until 1806. In the early days of the republic, Maryland was represented in legislature for four years by William Pickney, who eventually became recognized as one of the greatest lawyers of the County. In the 1790's, a young lawyer named John Montgomery moved to Harford County from his native State of Pennsylvania and within a short period of time he had embarked on a political career which led to his election to the Maryland House of Delegates, three terms in the House of Representatives and eventual service as Maryland’s Attorney General. Following Montgomery in Congress was Stevenson Archer, youngest son of the distinguished Archer family, who after a brief period of service in the Maryland Legislature was elected to Congress where he served almost continuously from 1811 to 1824. In that year, Judge Archer was appointed to the Court of Appeals and in 1844 became that Court’s Chief Judge.
Also in the nineteenth century, the Harford County bar was fortunate to have among its member Israel D. Mulsby, who served a number of terms in the Maryland legislature, Henry Fernandes, who served as a State Senator, as a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1867 and was widely recognized as one of the finest lawyers in the State. Also of note was Otho Scott, who served in the Maryland State Senate and also along with Hiram McCullough drafted the first true Maryland Code which was adopted by the Maryland Legislature in 1860.
During the Civil War, members of the Harford County bar served in the armies of both the North and South. Colonel Edwin Webster, while a member of Congress, recruited the 7th Regiment Maryland Volunteer Infantry for the Union and served in the Army without pay. On the Southern side, James D. Waters, who eventually served as a Circuit Court Judge for thirty-two years, served as a Confederate Cavalry officer and Otho Lee served in the army of Northern Virginia from the beginning of the War until the surrender at Appomattox.
The late 19th and early 20th Century saw no abatement in the quality of leadership offered by the bar. Stevenson Archer Williams was widely recognized as one of the leaders of the Bar and served as one of the early presidents of the Maryland State Bar Association. Millard E. Tydings served in the early part of the 20th Century as Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates before going on to a long and distinguished career in the United States Congress and Senate. The early part of the 20th Century, also saw distinguished service by Thomas Hall Robinson, who was twice elected to the office of the Attorney General of Maryland, Senator J. Wilmer Cronin who practiced law for over 60 years and served a number of terms in the Maryland House of Delegates and the State Senate all while editing a weekly newspaper. The latter part of the 20th Century saw Senator William S. James serve in the Maryland House of Delegates and for twelve years as the Maryland Senate President, C. Stanley Blair, the third Harford County native to serve as the Judge of the Maryland Federal District Court and Joseph D. Tydings, who was elected as a member of the United States Senate. Thomas J. Hatem served as the State Insurance Commissioner and as Chairman of the Public Service Commission.
Along with the political leadership, however, the Harford County bar has always been noted for the leadership that it has provided in other areas. Harford County lawyers have served with distinction in enumerable commercial endeavors, such as banking and the insurance industry, and devoted countless hours to civic and public service activities, such as the Board of Education, the Boy Scouts, American Red Cross and enumerable fraternal organizations.
Perhaps nothing characterizes the public spirit of the Harford County Bar and the Bar Association as much as the formation of the Harford County Bar Foundation in 1991. While it engages in a variety of activities, the primary function of the Bar Foundation is to provide a mechanism whereby economically qualified citizens of Harford County can obtain pro bono or reduced fee representation by qualified attorneys. Since its inception, members of the local bar have given enumerable hours of pro bono service and the Bar Foundation has become a model for similar organizations around the State.
At the threshold of the 21st Century, the future is bright for both Harford County and its bar. Members of the bar association continue to serve with distinction on both the state and local level of government as well as providing more and more pro bono legal services to those in need.
Written in 2002
by The Honorable William O. Carr
Associate Judge of the Circuit Court for Harford County